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While we were not watching…

By Brenda Barrett April 1, 2020
Bureau of Land Management File Photograph

Understandably the country and the world’s attention has been riveted on the inexorable spread of the Coronavirus, but what else might be happening when our attention is distracted?

As is so often the case, the United States’ National Parks is one topic that has attracted public scrutiny.  As reported in a recent podcast (March 22, 2020) by the National Parks Traveler,  the current administration’s management of U.S. parks seems emblematic of the overall federal government response to this national emergency.

Even before the pandemic, the long-standing authority of park superintendents to decide when to open and close facilities had been rescinded. Park managers were forced to submit any closure requests up through a multilevel chain of command. Now, confronted by this crisis, Dr. John Freemuth, a former park ranger and Environment and Public Lands Chair at Boise State University, opined that the response of the NPS and other land managing agencies appears to be driven by a sloppy “ ad hoc, unfocused centralized policy” not reflective of conditions on the ground.

The administration’s widely touted announcement that all national Parks would now be free has only made things worse. All experts on the podcast agreed that giving superintendents the authority on how to manage parks was critical. More recently, the Department of Interior has backed off on some of the restrictions on closing facilities and even whole parks. However, the issue is still uncertain as this developing story (March 26, 2020) about the status Grand Canyon National Park illustrates.

Also – no surprise – while all this has been going on, the Wall Street Journal (March 25 2020) reported that the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to waive compliance requirements and deadlines for a range of industries including oil refineries, water utilities, and sewer plants. A close reading of the article reveals that the waivers revolve around the current requirements for industries to switch to less polluting fuel oil, which is required in the summer season. Waivers according to the American Petroleum Institute will provide temporary relief to the industry as consumer demand for oil plummets. 

However, these are just a few of the current threats to the environment and public lands. Of even bigger concern are ongoing efforts to dismantle well established conservation programs. These include:

  • Reduction in the size of National Monuments — In 2017, the administration launched a review of 21 national monuments. The most publicized outcome of which has been the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. Within the borders of this monument alone, the potential losses of cultural and natural resources are tremendous. In addition, the landscapes of this monument and many others have ongoing cultural importance for many Indigenous peoples in the region. The issue of the reducing the monument boundaries is still in active litigation. 
  • Abolishing the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives – The administration has withdrawn funding for this innovative and successful conservation program in direct contradiction of instructions from Congress. The program was a comprehensive strategy to tackle big-picture issues affecting huge swaths of the US, such as climate change, flooding and species extinction. Most are now on indefinite hiatus or have been dissolved.    
  • Savage Budget cuts for all conservation programs- The most recent Administration’s budget includes a roughly $1.4 billion cut to the Department of Interior and far deeper cuts to the Department of Agriculture: combined the two agencies own and manage more than 700 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West.  

What to do?

  1. Just stop it.  One idea that is gaining traction is a call to  suspend ongoing comment periods and leave all regulations in place, halt oil and gas lease sales, and delay new policy proposals in the current emergency.  Another obvious step is for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to close  national parks for the protection of park employees and visitors. The Department of Interior cannot continue to operate under a “business as usual” mentality in regards to these other issues.

2. Support Organizations that Care. Let me suggest some of my favorite places to find like-minded people with powerful ideas. And while you at it, consider making a donation.

  • The National Parks Traveler  An editorially independent nonprofit media organization, its online site and newsletter are dedicated to covering primarily US National Park issues on a daily basis. A good source for up to the minute news on parks and protected areas.

  • The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks    This small but, high profile organization that represents over 1,800 current, former and retired park staff and has an effective record of advocating for National Parks issues. In last three years they have tackled high profile issues from energy extraction impacts to protecting park visitors and staff. 
  •  Network for Large Landscape Conservation  A broad based coalition established to advance the practice of large landscape conservation across all sectors and geographies. Its strength is in the diversity of individuals and organizations that are actively engaged and who are creating a collective body of knowledge, experience, and commitment to advancing conservation at the landscape scale. 
  • Preservation Action  A small organization, but a big advocate for historic preservation issues. The source for the latest information on legislation and policy matters in the field of cultural resources.    
  • US ICOMOS  Maintaining our connections to global heritage is more important than ever. US/ICOMOS opens the door to international best practices through knowledge exchanges, scientific committees, symposiums, and the organization’s well-respected international exchange program for students and young professionals. 

3) Strategize for the Future. Let’s use this challenging time to take stock and respond to the dismantling of Federal programs and partnerships that support landscape work by developing a more unified platform and a bigger vision. We should craft an agenda that merges the approaches of nature and culture conservation not just for protected lands, but for all valued places. A strategy that engages public and private partners and incorporates our lived-in landscapes with the goal of achieving conservation at scale. We can dream, can’t we?

N.B. The Living Landscape Observer is not the only one to point out this unraveling environmental catastrophe. Writing in Outside Online  Wes Siler catalogs other actions such as selling oil and gas leases at rock bottom prices, shutting down federal advisory committees and allowing violations of the Migratory Bird Act.

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Conservation and Controversy: Agricultural Landscapes of Marin County CA

By Brenda Barrett January 26, 2020
Farming Landscape Marin County CA

The San Francisco Bay Area has an extraordinarily rich and diverse food system that is an integral part of the region’s economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and regional identity. A recent white paper estimated the annual value of the food economy to be around $113 billion, employing close to half a million people, around 13 percent of the region’s workforce.  While Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is only one part of this system, it is nationally known for the quality of its food products. However, not so long ago, the county’s agriculture lands and open space were threatened by rampant development

The powerful book Farming on the Edge: Saving Family Farms in Marin County by John Hart (University of California Berkeley 1991) recounts the early efforts to save the region from over-development. In his foreword to the book, Wendell Berry writes that the success of these open space initiatives “Brings tears to your eyes.” He notes that the landscape would not have been saved if the conservationists and the country people had not made common cause.  And he concludes that his one wish for the future is that there would be more conversation about the value of locally produced food. He opines that “Securest guarantee of the long-term good health of both farmland and city is, I believe, locally produced food.”

Cowgirl Creamery stand at the Tomales Store Point Reyes Station

Written more than thirty years ago, Berry’s dearest wish has indeed come true. Today Marin County’s locally and organically grown products are prominently featured in all the regional farm markets and restaurants. Food tourism is big business. Brands like Cow Girl Creamery are nationally known and the cheeses are so desirable that they have been acquired by international corporations.

Two strategies helped preserve the farmland. First, was the local government’s recognition of the need to act by adopting plans and appropriate zoning for agricultural conservation. Second, was the establishment of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, one of the earliest land trusts to focus on working lands in the country. Today the trust holds easements on 86 family farms and ranches protecting 54,209 acres. 

Ranch Point Reyes National Seashore

However, the future of one portion of the agricultural lands in Marin is still uncertain – the lands known as the Pastoral Zone of Point Reyes National Seashore. The back story of these now 13 farms and ranches in the northern section of the park is a long and winding tale.  Originally, the idea behind creating a system of National Seashores was to secure access to the coastline near large population centers for the scenic and recreational enjoyment of the public.

This was the goal when Point Reyes was designated in 1962. The existing ranching and agricultural uses of the land within the park boundaries, uses that dated back over 150 years, were not seen as incompatible with the establishment of the park. In the following decades, the National Park Service re-prioritized its attention to include a much greater focus on natural resource protection. The agency and many environmental activists began to raise concerns about the impact of farming and ranching practices on these resources. The debate only intensified following the controversial cancellation of a lease for harvesting oysters in Drake Estuary and the re-introduction of a now expanding Tule Elk herd into the park. Congress has weighed in on the side of continued ranching  and a number of environmental groups on the side of re-wilding.

The debate was framed as cattle or elk?

Tule Elk in the Pastoral Zone Point Reyes National Seashore

Over the years, the National Park Service response to this contentious issue has been to undertake more planning and environmental assessments. A final decision on the future of working lands within park boundaries now projected to be issued in the Spring of 2020. The preferred alternative from these plans seems to be a continuation of use for landowners with many caveats and proposed new measures for environmental protection, elk conservation etc… Seems sensible, but perhaps a more vigorous endorsement of the cultural value of the dairying and ranching with the park is what is really needed. In Farming on the Edge, Jon Hart writes that if agriculture is to survive in West Marin Point then Point Reyes cannot be be excluded – “Point Reyes, after all, had been the heartland, the first and famous dairy district, with the foggiest fog, the greenest grass and the most hospitable terrain”.

Cowgirl Creamery

Today, as when the above was written in 1991, the dairies on Point Reyes constitute a significant percentage of the milk production in the county. Of the county’s 23 dairies, 8 are within the park. This is not just a historic use, but an important part of the regional food web and what makes the region culturally significant. The Marin Agricultural Land Trust supports the importance of these properties for food production. In addition the organization makes the case for their environmental value as a managed coastal grassland for habitat for endangered species, for sequestering carbon, storing water, supporting pollinators and keeping invasive plant species in check

 In conclusion, perhaps we need to revisit Wendell Berry’s 1991 wishes and words of wisdom about the value of a local agricultural economy. “Such an economy would make practical and economic connections between the people of the farms and the people of the city. These connections are necessary, and they imply further connections of mind and spirit.” Decades later one of the founders of Cowgirl Creamery Sue Conley agrees, “The ranches have contributed significantly to the sustainable food scene” in the area. It’s a great model to have working farms in a national seashore, connecting consumers with farmers. There’s a consciousness that comes from being around nature and farming that’s really important to urban life.” 

Unfortunately, this vision of what our parks and protected areas should be striving for is not yet in the tradition of the US National Park Service. Our current model gives a thumbs up to scenery, recreation, natural resource protection, and even historic properties, but there is no provision for living and working landscapes such as they have in Europe and other parks across the globe. Now we just need the National Park Service to add this to the values for which our parks were created.

Note:  For an in depth discussion of the challenges the National Park Service has faced and still faces today, see the excellent book by Laura Watts The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore University of California Press 2016.

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Climate Change and Heritage Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett December 18, 2019
Blackwater National Wildlife Sanctuary Photo Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program

Our changing climate is causing radical alteration to the earth’s ecosystems and the focus has been on the impact to flora and fauna.  Less recognized have been the impacts that are wrought on our treasured cultural landscape. However, as the climate threat looms larger the discussion is broadening to look at cultural heritage impacts.  Recently, the Cultural Landscape Foundation  issued a compelling report highlighting the risk faced by some of our nation’s is iconic cultural landscapes. 

Harriet Tubman National Monument Visitors Center Courtey Accroian

  For example, on the Eastern shore of Maryland in  Dorchester County the Harriet Tubman National Monument commemorates the story of the legendary abolitionist. It was into this landscape that she was born, from which she escaped, and to which she returned many times to lead other enslaved people to freedom. It is also the location of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge designated in 1933 as a sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. Today although this landscape has been designated as a protected area both its cultural and natural values are threatened by inexorable forces of climate change. Sea level rise and land subsidence have caused the refuge to lose over 5,000 acres of wetlands since its creation. There has been a marked increase ‘sunny day flooding’ that disrupts life throughout the region. These rising waters also cause increased salination of the soil that threatens both farming and forestry and makes storm surges more destructive.

 The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s 2019 edition of Landslide draws much needed attention to ten examples of landscapes across the nation endangered  by flooding, wildfires, regional drought, and other effects of human-induced climate change. As Charles A. Birnbaum, the Foundation’s President & CEO noted “Climate change is a widely acknowledged threat to natural and ecological systems, but the dire potential impacts on irreplaceable cultural systems and historic resources need greater attention and it requires action, now.”

It is also appropriate that former National Park Service Director John Jarvis wrote the introduction to this report. As the agency under his leadership rang early alarm bells about the risk of climate change to our National Parks and cultural resources specifically. In 2010 Jarvis called out climate change as “the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced” in 2014 the service issued Policy Memorandum 14-02, Climate Change and Stewardship of Cultural Resources. This included the following key points:  “(1) cultural resources are primary sources of data regarding human interactions with environmental change; and (2) changing climates affect the preservation and maintenance of cultural resources”.

The National Park then published a follow-on report Cultural Resource Climate Change Strategy   January 2017.  This report detailed a comprehensive strategy to gather information, asses the impacts, consider adaptation and mitigation, as well as communicate the seriousness of the threat to the public. It recognized that cultural resources and the stories and understanding they represent play an essential role in climate change communication. It also highlighted some of the cultural resources impacted by climate change including cultural landscapes such as Point Reyes National Seashore. 

This report, outlining a strategy for the park service to address climate change impact on cultural resources, was issued in January 2017. It was issued just in time, as the incoming national leadership made it clear it not taking the climate challenge to heart. However, these reports and other information are still accessible and the lack of action at the national government level does not mean nothing can be done.  In the United Sates, individual states, cities, and many nongovernmental organizations are now picking up the banner of responding to climate change overall. See such coalitions as America’s Pledge. And in further encouraging news, there is a lot happening on the international stage to focus attention on climate and heritage resources.

What follows is just a sampling of this forward momentum. At a recent gathering (October 24-25, 2019) in Edinburgh Scotland, arts, culture and heritage organizations from around the  world announced the formation of the Climate Heritage Network   The organization’s moto is “Cultural Heritage is a Climate Action Issue;  Climate Action is a Cultural Heritage Issue’. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is staffing this new network. This event was followed by the recent COP25 meeting in Madrid where the  new Network released its first action plan to help mobilize the arts, culture and heritage community. Dubbed the Madrid-to-Glasgow Arts, Culture and Heritage Climate Action Plan, its release kicks off a year of culture-based climate action that will culminate in 2020 at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. 

Arts, culture or heritage related business, university, nongovernmental organization or government office, all are invited to join the Network.   This is a great opportunity for those interested in conserving cultural landscapes to weigh in and become part of this worldwide effort.

 

 

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Mesa Verde National Park: Reinterpreting a Landscape

By Brenda Barrett October 31, 2019
Ranger tour of Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park

The word landscape jumps out at you on many of the interpretative signs at Mesa Verde National Park and the real thing is before you at every overlook.  The park established in 1906, ten years before the creation of the National Park Service, was later designated as the first World Heritage cultural site in the United States (1978). The original motive for creating the park came out of a growing interest in the archaeology of the Southwest that also lead to the creation of national monuments such as Chaco Canyon, Bandelier, Hovenweep and Aztec Ruins.  What made Mesa Verde standout to the early settlers and explorers were the extensive ‘cliff houses and ancient ruins’. In 1892 the writer Frederick Chapin visited one of the larger sites and described it as “occupying a great oval space under a grand cliff wonderful to behold, appearing like an immense ruined castle with dismantled towers.” 

Mesa Verde National Park’s World Heritage Plaque prominently displayed at the entrance to the park’s Chapin Museum

 In part it was this cross-cultural comparison of the structures to European building types that focused attention on Mesa Verde as something special in North America – a place that needed to be preserved. This was not to say the that the artifacts associated with the site were not seen as important. In fact, the designation was made more urgent by the continued threat of pothunting and vandalism of the sites in the cliffs and on the mesa tops.

For years Mesa Verde National Park was described as a place shrouded in mystery. The people who lived there were portrayed as having suddenly abandoned the cliff dwelling and just disappeared. The builders were labeled the Anasazi a term derived from the Navajo word meaning ‘ancient ones’ or alternatively ‘ancient enemies’, which added to the confusion. Now we know that these people did not disappear, but migrated south to become the ancestors of the modern-day pueblo and Hopi people.  Today park interpretation refers to the cliff dwellers as Ancestral Puebloans who like so many people around the globe migrated to other places for other opportunities. 

Just as importantly, current research places the people of Mesa Verde in a much larger regional context. Settlements that date from between 350 BC and AD 1300, the span of settlement on Mesa Verde, are found throughout southwestern Colorado and in the Four Corners region. Current research also links the people of Mesa Verde to one of the centers of Puebloan culture Chaco Cultural National Historical Park  another World Heritage site (1987).  As our ranger said on a recent tour of Cliff Palace, by the 1200s the region had a larger population than live here today. He told us that if we could have looked out from the tops of the mesas at night, we would see the fires from towns and villages that spread to the horizon. This image helps visualize the peopling of the region at a landscape scale. 

Burned landscape on Wetherill Mesa

The newer interpretation gives visitors a better understanding of the past population of Mesa Verde, but does not answer the question of why did they leave the region after 1300s? Possibly for some the same threats that hover over the Mesa Verde today – changes in the environment and changes in climate. The park has not shied away from this topic. A recent study has shown that today’s hot and dry conditions in Mesa Verde have exceeded climates fluxes in the past.  A park resource manager noted that nearly 70% of the landscape in the 52,485-acre park has been altered in just the last few decades for reasons that tie directly back to climate change. Namely, drought-driven fires.h

This has had a severe impact on the mesa top landscape fires have been able to take hold that have burned off acres and acres of the pinon-juniper forests. While periodic droughts were common to the region in the past, the current level is unprecedented. A 2016 UNESCO report on World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate hspecifically identified the park as facing serious risks rising temperatures and declining rainfall. A combination could cause increased wildfires that might irreversibly damage the park. 

Banner at the entrance to the Park Museum

How is the park telling these newer stories? First, by recognizing the ancestral Puebloan roots of the people of Mesa Verde in park waysides and in ranger talks and programs,  and  also by offering  forthright statements on climate change. A prominent banner in the Chapin Museum states that while climate change has always been with us “Today the rate of change is greater than in any other time in the earth’s history.”

Mesa Verde National Park has relatively lower visitation (563,000 in 2018) compared to some other parks on the Colorado Plateau with over 1.5 million visors a year. However, it is no backwater when it comes to sharing the latest findings in history and science. 

Congratulations to all! 

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The Crying Need to Establish an African American Burial Grounds Network

By Brenda Barrett April 28, 2019


Historic Lincoln Cemtery Mechanicsburg Pennsylvania (Carilse Sentinel)

Across the nation the same story pops up every month or so – developers clearing ground for a housing project, a big box store, or a parking garage, take your pick, uncover a formerly unidentified burial ground. Everything stops. Archeologists, city planners and historian weigh in and, in my experience, the majority of the time the burials are found to be associated with a former African American community.  This phenomenon is so common that the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), whose members are often at the center of the storm after discovery, even prepared a series of best practices to deal with the situation.

However, this after-the-fact approach, while better than nothing, is not ideal. For this reason, the Society in partnership with many in the African American community looked for a more comprehensive solution. As J.W. Joseph, PhD, RPA and the SHA’s Past President noted, “West African traditions place a strong emphasis on the connection between the living and the dead and the need for the living to maintain and respect the burial places of their ancestors.  There are too few African American spaces on our nation’s landscape – in this time of racial tension we hope Congress will pass this Act and provide descendant communities with the resources needed to maintain and restore the places that are important to them.”

Working with Congress and the National Park Service, innovative legislation was drafted to establish the African American Burial Grounds Network. The bill was introduced by dedicated sponsors Representatives Alma S. Adams (NC-12) and A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) who recognized the issues as important to both their districts and the nation.  The legislation seeks to coordinate national, state, and local efforts to conserve African American burial sites by developing a voluntary, nationwide database of historic burial grounds and providing technical assistance and educational materials to governmental agencies and the caretaking community. It also proposes a grant program for local groups to research, survey, identify and help preserve theses sites. The bill was introduced in February 2019 as The African American Burial Ground Network (HR 1179)and already has 13 cosponsors on both sides of the aisle. 

This national initiative will also benefit the many state and local cemetery conservation efforts. In my home state, the Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground Project has been convening African American cemetery caretakers for many years to build a stronger community and share best practices. According to Barbara Barksdale, the leader this effort “This bill is vital to saving and preserving our ancestor’s burial sites.” She then gave an example of the need for the legislation in her historic cemetery where in the past the township and an adjoining neighbor had paved over an area that contained burial lots.

While the proposed legislation is an important step in building awareness and developing a network of on-the -ground cemetery caretakers, it is not a panacea. In Pennsylvania, the Hallowed Ground project has identified land ownership as one of the pressing challenges in conserving African American cemeteries. A survey of 42 cemeteries in the Commonwealth with United States Colored Troop burials revealed not only a landscape of segregation and marginalized locations, but, for socio-economic reasons, a tangled web of ownership issues. In one case a farmer granted the African American community a small plot to be used as a burial ground. However, generations later without a written record of the transaction, the current owners cut off access to the site. Only recently has the local VFW negotiated access to let caretakers return for a clean-up and commemoration. In other cases, the original cemetery association or associated church is no longer extant and the site has been abandoned or left in limbo. There are endless variations on this theme. 

The challenging issue of land ownership may make the bill’s condition that property owners must consent to be included in a national cemetery data base a bit problematic. In Pennsylvania at least, the State Historic Preservation Office has committed to include African American cemeteries identified by the Hallowed Ground Project in their statewide GIS data base, which will provide some protection. 

Overall there is a crying need for this legislation to draw awareness to the preservation of these burial grounds that have such strong spiritual and patriotic as well as historic association for members of the African American community. This legislation will help provide information and resources to  cemetery caretakers across the nation so they can focus on the pressing problems of acquiring clear title to their property, repairing broken headstones and sunken vaults, and engaging additional partners in the unending maintenance needs of these hallowed grounds. 

One more thing, for this bill to become law more awareness is needed on the topic and more cosponsors are needed for the bill. Reach out to your member of Congress and ask them to sign on to HR 1179 The African American Burial Ground Network.

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Protecting America’s Long Trails

By Guest Observer November 1, 2018

Aerial view showing the Werowocomoco archeological site along the York River in Virginia along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT. Photo courtesy PNTS

October, 2018, marks the 50thanniversary of two remarkable federal laws: the National Trails System and Wild and Scenic Rivers Acts.  Both laws set up ways that the federal government can assist in protecting and operating “long, skinny corridors” for recreation and heritage resource preservation

My background is with the trails, and their challenges are tough because some of them are very long – thousands of miles.  The two flagships of the National Trails System are the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails, both well over 2,000 miles in length, both spanning numerous states, both highlighting mountain chains.  Both take advantage of hundreds of miles of corridor on federal or state public lands.  To fully protect both as continuous corridors of “superlative recreation,” the federal government had to acquire lands from private landowners to fill in the gaps. For long stretches, both trails are “tunnels in the woods,” where a corridor of 1,000 or 2,000 feet wide may be sufficient.  But in other places where there are magnificent views, it is hard to know how wide the protected corridor should be.

In 1978, 40 years ago, a new category of trail was added to the National Trails System – national historic trails.  In fact, between 1983 and 2009, that was the only category of trail added to the System. Today there are 11 national scenic trails and 19 national historic trails together totaling more than 50,000 miles in length and crossing 49 of the 50 states.  National historic trails do not need to be continuous – rather, they commemorate important routes of travel from the past by featuring the remnant ruts, grave sites, structures, etc., that are left, linked together when possible by signed auto tour routes.  Many of them – and especially in the West – feature large landscapes that are difficult to preserve.

For the trails, it is useful to distinguish between “management” and “administration.” Management relates to the ownership and jurisdiction of the land (or water) where the trail route occurs. Administration relates to the agency carrying out the coordinative authorities of the Trails Act.  Sometimes they are the same agency – this occurs, for example, where the Appalachian Trail crosses national park units, since the National Park Service administers that trail and manages those units.  Most often, though, one agency administers a trail while another manages specific segments – and they need to work together for any success to occur.  This can be difficult when these agencies have different missions, distinct traditions and operating laws, varying staffing and budget priorities, and conflicting attitudes about trails, recreation, and heritage conservation.

President Lyndon Johnson signing the National Trails System Act. Image: LBJ Presidential Library

When the Trails Act was first passed, thanks to special pleading by then Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, the first two trails had access to eminent domain as a last resort, and it has been used effectively and sparingly.  Then in amendments passed in 1978 and 1983, Congress severely limited the use of eminent domain for all subsequent trails established under the Act. This has led to some very creative alternative ways for protecting trail-related land resources: state protection programs, land trusts, cooperative agreements, site certification, etc.

The National Trails System Act was one in a long suite of environmental and recreational laws passed in the 1960s and 1970s.  It was piloted to passage by Secretary Udall and Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI). President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law just before the end of his term as president.  Over five decades, times change, political dynamics change, budgets come and go.  Amazingly, the National Trails System has endured and grown.  And the key is citizen involvement and advocacy.  From the start, it set in motion conservation through partnership, inspired by the decades-long chain of agreements between the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trail organizations and federal agencies through whose lands those trails were routed.  Amendments to the Trails Act in 1983 expanded and defined the many roles volunteers could play in planning, building, maintaining, promoting, and operating the trails.  Since then, a variety of national advocacy organizations have been founded (American Hiking Society, American Trails, and the Partnership for the National Trails System).  And, modeled on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, citizen-based volunteer organizations have been founded to help support almost every one of the trails created under the Trails Act.  In addition, nationwide land trusts – such as the Conservation Fund, Trust for Public Lands, etc. – have all stepped in to help where needed.

The key to successful national scenic and historic trails is partnerships.  These occur at many scales and for many purposes.  One authority that fostered landscape protection was the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), first established in 1965. Thanks to these funds – derived from the sale of public lands and federal off-shore oil and gas leases — $200 million has been used to protect the threatened gaps along the Appalachian Trail.  Other LWCF funds have filled in gaps in national parks and forests as well as aided states and local jurisdictions with park and recreational facilities.

During the Obama Administration, a special LWCF program called “Collaborative Landscape Planning,” made $50 million available for dozens of corridor and viewshed protection projects along many of the national scenic and historic trails.  However, the basic LWCF authority expired on September 30, so if it is not re-authorized soon, the future of the national trails will be in jeopardy.

America’s national scenic and historic trails offer unparalleled opportunities to experience our Nation’s natural and cultural dimensions.  Many sites along these trails deserve special attention as irreplaceable cultural landscapes.  Some are places sacred to indigenous peoples.  Some offer spectacular and fragile scenery.  And others may look plain and unremarkable, but from them spring stories of heroism, social change, and transformation.  I invite you this anniversary year – in fact every year – to explore America’s national scenic and history trails and see what a remarkable legacy they offer.

Steve Elkinton was trained as a landscape architect (University of Pennsylvania, 1976) and worked with the National Park Service for 36 years, 25 as program leader for the National Trails System.  In his retirement he has written an illustrated history called A Grand Experiment – the National Trails System at 50.

 

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Virtues of Good Government

By Guest Observer May 29, 2017

Sign explaining historic preservation work, Fort Monroe National Monument. Photograph by Rolf Diamant

Sign explaining historic preservation work, Fort Monroe National Monument. Photograph by Rolf Diamant

In this piece, originally published in the May 2017 issue of the George Wright Forum (vol 34, no 1), guest observer Rolf Diamant explores the significance of National Monuments to the National Park system. He calls attention to Fort Monroe National Monument, located in Hampton, Virginia, as an example of how National Monuments have played a key role in expanding the depth and breadth of the stories interpreted at park units.

Also highlighted in the article is the recently created Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County, South Carolina. President Obama’s decision to designate this site shortly before leaving office will likely be regarded as one of his most significant uses of the Antiquities Act, as the Monument interprets a period described by historian Greg Downs as “America’s first great experiment in bi-racial democracy.” Until the creation of the monument in 2016, no unit of park system focused primarily on Reconstruction.

In addition to his discussion of National Monuments, Diamant touches on current funding and management challenges facing the agency, including shrinking numbers of staff and decreased support for some newly designated units.

Thanks to the George Wright Society for permission to use this piece.

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What is in a name? The National Monument Version

By Brenda Barrett May 27, 2017

Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument Courtesy: Bureau of Land Management

Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument
Courtesy: Bureau of Land Management

National Monuments were once an obscure protected area designation. Today they are a big story in major news outlets.  Reporters are struggling with names likes Bears Ears, Grand Staircase – Escalante, and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. What put these places in the headlines was the new administration’s signature on an April 26, 2017 Executive Order authorizing a review all National Monuments designated since January 1, 1996 and specifically those over 100,000 acres.

The press coverage usually gets the origin story right. The Antiquities Act passed in 1906 during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. It authorized the president by proclamation to set aside land owned or controlled by the federal government for conservation purposes. This power has been used by 16 presidents of both parties for over a hundred years to create 170 national monuments. However, there are some ongoing misconceptions. The biggest one is that the designation locks up private lands.

The legislation is clear that monuments are to be created out of the public estate or lands that have been donated for public purposes. However, general readers might conclude from the rhetoric in the press that this is a Federal land grab. To start with the President called it a land grab when he signed the E.O. And a Utah local government official is quoted in the New York Times as saying., “You just don’t take something from somebody,” equating the designation of Bears Ears as a national monument to grand theft.  In Maine, where one family has donated over 87,000 acres to the Department of Interior to create the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, opponents claimed the land would be better returned to timber production. But, as noted by Lucas St. Clair, a spokesperson for the family, in an interview with the Guardian: “This was private land that my family owned and wanted to donate to create a national park… they (opponents) fail to realize the land was sold to us by people from the forest products industry because it was no longer valuable to them as a landscape to log and cut trees…the argument that this is taking this land out of potential fiber production is absurd.”

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Courtesy: National Park Service

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
Courtesy: National Park Service

Another source of confusion is what National Monument status means. The New York Times opined that, in terms of protection, national monuments are generally considered one step below national parks. Some of this confusion may be caused by the different agencies tasked with managing the individual monuments. For example, Grand Staircase – Escalante is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Papahānaumokuākea is administered jointly by three co-trustees – the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior and the State of Hawai’i. But just to set the record straight those National Monuments managed by the National Park Service are part of the National Park system and are not second class citizens.

The size of monuments also appears to be a concern.  And this is in part because the Antiquities Act states that a monument “be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”  Secretary Zinke raised this issue at his confirmation hearing and it is reflected in the recent order to review the larger sized monuments. But, as a recent well researched post in the National Trust Forum notes, some monuments are  “pretty monumental” take the Grand Canyon. And we can add the Grand Tetons and multiple parks in Alaska to the list.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Courtesy: NOAA

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
Courtesy: NOAA

There are also some big unknowns.  Just what will happen if some of the national monuments are rescinded or boundaries adjusted. Drill rigs are pictured in many environmental alerts on the topic and that is certainly a possibility. And opponents talk about the limits monument designation may impose on economic activity such as logging, and oil and mineral extraction. However, the local people of San Juan County Utah are more likely objecting to the designation of Bears Ears because they want more control over their place on the earth. President Trump certainly played to this theme. In signing the April Executive Order to study the targeted monuments by saying “Today I am signing another E.O. to end another egregious abuse of Federal power and to give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs”.

Department of Interior Secretary Zinke, who has the challenging task of implementing the study, has taken another path. Many of  his public statements have been supportive of continued federal ownership of public land. See the Living Landscape Observer Listening to Zinke. So how will this all play out?

One discouraging sign is that despite his declarations about  the importance of listening to residents and affected communities, Zinke issued a Department of Interior memo (May 5, 2017) sending a  temporary stop work order to over 200 Department Advisory Committees. The stated goal is to review the charter and charge of each committee and as a spokeswoman for the department said “to restore trust in the Department’s decision making.” However, many of the committees, as has been pointed out by their members, were created to give local community input.  Just one example, the 16-member, volunteer Acadia advisory commission was created by Congress in 1986 in response to community concerns about the park expanding its boundaries without adequate input. Membership is primarily 10 local governments adjacent to the park. Now government decisions are being made while they sit on the sidelines. Even more ironic, the agency’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument advisory committee will be suspended throughout the debate over the monument’s future.

With all of this is happening in the very short time frame of  120 days, it is hard to even set the record straight on what  national monuments are or are not,  before other changes may be proposed to this venerable conservation program.

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Looking for Detroit’s Urban Landscape: My Experience on the George Wright’s 2016 Park Break

By Guest Observer May 27, 2017

Geo-referenced map showing locations of The Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, Submerge Studios and United Sound Systems Credit: Ariel Schnee

Geo-referenced map showing locations of The Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, Submerge Studios and United Sound Systems
Credit: Ariel Schnee

When I was growing up in the suburbs outside of Detroit in the early and mid-1990s, it was easy to forget that the city existed. Generally speaking, if you were white, you didn’t go downtown. Even on the odd occasion that you found yourself in the city, you didn’t hang around, and you definitely left before dark. Detroit is a place indelibly marked by the highest highs and the lowest lows of American history. Its crumbling buildings and forgotten factories are the tangible evidence of economic booms and busts, the rise and decline of American manufacturing, and the after-effects of WWII, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, racism and classism, as well as decades of local mismanagement and corruption.

In Detroit, hope and resilience, despair and neglect, are not only inscribed upon the landscape, they are often next-door neighbors. Over the years, I saw family and friends steadily abandon their homes around the city as their neighborhoods went “bad.” In the 1990s, and even now, Detroit was a hard place to love, and an even harder one in which to live. But Detroit is also so much more than the disaster porn the media likes to show, and the city has a weirdly magnetic attraction. Some insanely determined people do, in fact, live in Detroit, and they do incredible things there—Detroiters create art, perform and record cutting-edge music, and work at the very forefront of urban agriculture. The people who have managed to remain there literally make the city bloom around them. But regardless of their incredible accomplishments and tenacity, it is a sad truth that, since the advent of white flight from urban America in the 1960s, almost anyone who was able to go somewhere other than Detroit, did. The wealthier and whiter you were, the further you went, and you never looked back.

And that was why I was sitting at a desk in Colorado, and not one in Michigan, when the notice for the George Wright Society’s 2016 Park Break appeared in my email inbox. When I saw that the program was taking place in Detroit, I knew I had to seize the chance to go back, so I applied. Park Break is a week long program for graduate students to gain experience working on public lands, usually in National Parks. Park Breakers normally work on a defined project and are supported by the hosting park’s staff and resources.

Documents Recovered from the Bluebird Inn Courtesy: Lorin Brace

Documents Recovered from the Bluebird Inn
Courtesy: Lorin Brace

Despite the amount of NPS tax breaks and grant money invested in rehabilitation projects in Detroit, there was no national park we could rely on to help us in our work. As an NPS Urban Fellow, Dr. Goldstein was looking for a way to implement the NPS Urban agenda—an NPS program aimed at making parks more relevant and accessible to urban populations—in Detroit (for more information on the Urban Agenda, click here). Dr. Goldstein created the Park Break in order to lay the research basis for a full National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) district nomination that highlighted Detroit’s longstanding importance to musical history in America. The need to preserve these buildings is pressing. Detroit is currently experiencing a burst of revitalization centered on the downtown area. Nearby neighborhoods are redeveloping quickly, but often haphazardly, and in ways that threaten historic buildings and neighborhoods.

Without a park home base, we pieced together the project from the resources that were available in the community. We borrowed workspace at Wayne State University, research materials from the Burton Library’s Special Collections and the Detroit Historical Society, and expertise from local music authorities and the property owners themselves to try and reconstruct the history of four of Detroit’s most important musical heritage sites. In partnership with Wayne State University and the City of Detroit, Dr. David Goldstein identified the Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, United Sound Systems and Submerge Studios as candidates for an NRHP historic district.

Clockwise from top left. United Sound Systems, Submerge Records, Motown Studios, and the Bluebird Inn.   Courtesy:  Google Earth

Clockwise from top left. United Sound Systems, Submerge Records, Motown Studios, and the Bluebird Inn.
Courtesy: Google Earth

Each property represents a distinct element of Detroit’s musical heritage. The Bluebird Inn was a popular African-American nightclub and the birthplace of Bebop, a highly energetic and improvisational form of Jazz. Motown Records was home to Berry Gordy’s “Empire on West Grand Boulevard,” where musical legends like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Martha and the Vandellas made timeless Motown hits. Though it has changed hands several times, United Sound Systems remains to this day a professional recording studio, and famous musicians like John Lee Hooker and the Motor City 5 made music at United Sound Systems ranging from Blues to Punk Rock. Submerge Studios represents yet another musical genre born in Detroit—Techno. The building was once used as a union gathering place. Today, the historic building houses a Detroit techno music label, radio station, and recording studio.

The buildings themselves reflected the full range of conditions one might find in Detroit as a whole. The Bluebird Inn, for example, has sat vacant in a rough neighborhood for fifteen years. It lacks doors and a complete roof, and is in an advanced state of decay. United Sound Systems, while well-maintained, is currently under threat of eminent domain from a proposed highway expansion. Motown Records and Submerge Studios are not under threat, but should be recognized on the National Register due to their integrity and historic significance to Detroit’s musical heritage.

The buildings we examined were the survivors of a formerly broad and dense network of recording studios, radio stations, record stores, and talent agencies . African American musicians, recording artists, and entrepreneurs created economic opportunity in their own neighborhoods that the outside world often denied them. Banks refused to approve African Americans for commercial loans on the basis of their race. Even if African Americans had business capital through other means, racist city zoning practices, or “red lining,” made buying property outside of certain neighborhoods was nearly impossible. To start their businesses, Black Detroiters got creative, borrowing money from family and friends, and setting up fledgling recording studios in non-commercial spaces, like private residences. From their homes, Berry Gordy (founder of Motown), James Siracuse (the North African founder of United Sound Systems) and other African American entrepreneurs created, captured, and distributed a timeless sound that was assertively Black and distinctively Detroit.

Although not yet an official historic district, the spatial arrangement of the Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, United Sound Systems, and Submerge Records are physically grouped so closely to one another that regarding them holistically as a historic district was natural and intuitive. However, a lack of sources remains a barrier to any future NRHP nomination. Because businesses and studios changed hands frequently, many of the records necessary to prove the sites’ historic significance are now lost, and development now threatens their historic integrity. Under-funding of cultural institutions like the Detroit Public Library also means that while the library has retained its collections, much of the research infrastructure is under-developed. For example, the library still relies on a physical card catalog, which makes the research process slow and laborious by the digital age’s standards. Thanks to Wayne State University’s recent archaeological investigation of the Bluebird Inn, the building has yielded a forgotten cache of documents, including receipts, pay stubs, and other invaluable historic evidence. The collection now resides at Wayne State University and is the subject of an Archaeology Master’s thesis by Wayne State University student and 2016 Park Break participant, Lorin Brace .

Apart from the four sites we researched as part of Park Break, we do not know how many of the buildings where other African-American owned music businesses once operated still exist. Hundreds of African American-owned businesses in Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods were demolished to make way for the I-75 highway as part of an urban renewal project. Most of the former residents relocated to public housing, such as the Brewster projects, to the profound detriment of Detroit’s African-American community.

Over the course of that whirlwind week in Detroit with Park Break, I got to see the city as it enters a new phase, one that, shockingly enough, includes breweries, artisanal coffee shops, trendy restaurants, and high-end watches. While it was thrilling to see the city coming alive for the first time in my lifetime, Park Break was also an opportunity for my team and me to think seriously about who Detroit was coming alive for, who was being pushed out, and what was being lost in that process. Outside the small bubble of revitalization in downtown is where you find the people who are the most passionate about the long, hard, and often painful history of the places and of the city where they live and work. Helping to preserve these sites and the stories they represented during Park Break made me feel like I was doing a small part to preserve Detroit’s (pardon the pun) soul.

Ariel Schnee is a writer, researcher, and Public History Master’s Candidate at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached online at www.schneepublichistory.com, or by email at aschnee@colostate.edu.

 

 

 

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Examining Federal Land Acquisition Practices After World War II

By Eleanor Mahoney March 30, 2017

View of Big Cypress National Preserve. Photo by National Park Service.

View of Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. Photo by National Park Service.

In the decades after World War II, the Federal government significantly altered its approach to land acquisition for parks, forests and other protected areas. Before this period, Congress rarely appropriated funds for the purchase of private property. Instead, protected areas were either carved out the public domain (which has much of its origins in Indigenous dispossession) or created through donation. Condemnation also occurred, though at times states, with federal urging, took the lead as in 1920s/1930s era National Parks in Appalachia.

The push for open space and recreation opportunities near urban areas as well as the passage of landmark legislation like the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (1964) meant there was both an increased demand for and funds available to support an unprecedented level of land acquisition. Yet, the results of this new approach proved, in many cases, to be far from ideal. Agencies frequently acquired lands in a haphazard fashion and less-than-fee options garnered little interest or enthusiasm. Residents and landowners whose property fell within protected area boundaries became confused and angry along the way, feeling betrayed by a process that was far from transparent.

In 1979, the Government Accountability Office looked at the issue of federal land acquisition in the 1960s and 1970s in a report entitled The Federal drive to acquire private lands should be reassessed  (available via the Hathi Trust website, a free online archive worth searching if you haven’t already). This document, which includes analysis of sites like Big Cypress National Preserve and Lower St. Croix National Scenic River, provides an in-depth commentary and analysis of acquisition by land management agencies as well as agency responses and should be interesting reading for those involved – past, present and future – in adding lands to the federal portfolio.

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Federal Budget: First Look is not Promising

By Brenda Barrett March 29, 2017

On March 16, 2017 the Whitehouse released the America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again  and the news was not great for programs that support large landscape conservation. For the FY 2018 budget, the Department of Interior faces a proposed 12% budget cut. Although not as bad as other agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency is facing a 31% reduction – the decline is still troubling. The budget document is very brief and in general it does not identify where the pain will fall. However, is it is clearly not supportive of land acquisition or regional conservation initiatives and threatens parks and protected area funding. Let’s look at the actual language in the Blueprint– limited as it is:

Impact on Landscape Scale Conservation

  • Eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs. (EPA)
  • Reduces funding for lower priority activities in the National Forest System, such as major new Federal land acquisition; instead, the Budget focuses on maintaining existing forests and grasslands. (Agriculture)
  • Reduces funding for lower priority activities, such as new major acquisitions of Federal land. The Budget reduces land acquisition funding by more than $120 million from the 2017 annualized CR level and would instead focus available discretionary funds on investing in, and maintaining, existing national parks, refuges and public lands . (Interior)
  • Zeroes out over $250 million in targeted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education including Sea Grant, which primarily benefit industry and State and local stakeholders. (Commerce)

All of the above programs have been identified in an  National Academy of Sciences 2015 report as part of the public policy tool kit that helps support landscape scale conservation efforts. As for what will happen to the Department of Interior’s landmark program, the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC), well the fate of the LCCs are not mentioned by name. However, given the proposed drastic budget reductions and the trend to de-fund landscape scale conservation initiatives, the signs are not hopeful. And this all before the proposed cuts and deletions of any  program that addresses climate change.

Impact on National Heritage Areas

  • Eliminates unnecessary, lower priority, or duplicative programs, including… National Heritage Areas as more appropriately funded locally. (Interior)

The National Heritage Area (NHA) program has been a favorite target of the Office of Management Budget for almost two decades. This is despite the fact that each areas is congressionally authorized with the mission to conserve significant  heritage landscapes and tell part of our nation’s story and that the program has had very positive evaluations. In the just one and half  pages allocated to the Department of interior’s 11.6 billion dollar budget, the NHA’s line item of only 16 million (FY 2017)  is specifically singled out for elimination.  Even more ironic, the Blueprint then goes on to comment favorably on other DOI programs that:

  • Leverages taxpayer investment with public and private resources through wildlife conservation, historic preservation, and recreation grants. These voluntary programs encourage partnerships by providing matching funds that produce greater benefits to taxpayers for the Federal dollars invested. (Interior)

Wait a minute, isn’t that just how the NHA program is supposed to work with every Federal dollar matched by other public or private contributions? And, in addition, doesn’t the program have strong evidence to back up claims that it provides such a match as well as  additional public and private leverage? This is very discouraging.

National Park Service

  • Supports stewardship capacity for land management operations of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. The Budget streamlines operations while providing the necessary resources for DOI to continue to protect and conserve America’s public lands and beautiful natural resources, provide access to public lands for the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts, and ensure visitor safety. (Interior)

This all sound good. However, any proposal that imposes a 12% reduction in funding for land managing agencies is problematic.  Front-line services at National Park units could be hit the hardest and it will certainly impact the service’s other cultural and natural resource programs. The Blueprint also proposes upping dollars to the NPS for deferred maintenance, but if staff for maintenance, planning and administration such an initiative is lost this increase will not provide much of a solution. For a comprehensive overview of the NPS funding and infrastructure issue see Denny Galvin’s recent testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

And now to Congress            

It is important to emphasize that in most cases the March 2017 Blueprint does not contain information on exactly which programs and accounts will lose out, but with such deep cuts in base funding there could be many losers. However, these proposals, both at the aggregate level and the specific program level, are just that—proposals. They are the administration’s ideas on how Congress, to whom the Blueprint goes next, should allocate dollars in each of these areas. While it needs to be taken very seriously as an indicator of the direction in which the President would like to head, it is only a starting point for the 2018 Federal Budget.

So over to you Congress… we  all need to be watching closely or better yet taking action.

See Something Say Something!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US National Parks on the Southern Border

By Brenda Barrett February 27, 2017

Border Fence  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Border Fence
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Standing in the shade cast by a twenty high border fence, our ranger discussed the challenges facing Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as a park on the border between the United States and Mexico. The tour we signed up for was described as an opportunity to visit the Gachado Line Camp, a historic cowboy camp, and so we did. But as our ranger said, what people really want to see when they come down here is the border and that was true for our little group.

Border Vehicle Barrier Courtesy National park Service

Border Vehicle Barrier
Courtesy National park Service

The southern border of the United States is an evolving concept. This particular boundary was imposed on the landscape by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 and for decades it was only marked by intermittent concrete monuments. The first border fence, in what is now the national monument,  was a strand or two of barbed wire to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease. It was only as illegal immigration and drug trafficking increased at the turn of the 21st century that the National ParkService installed a low metal vehicle barrier along the monument’s 31-mile boundary. This prevented vehicles from crossing the border and impacting the fragile desert environment, but was permeable to wildlife.

In 2007 a twenty-foot border fence was erected for a five mile stretch on the park’s boundary by the Department of Homeland Security in part as a response to the tragic shooting of NPS Ranger Kris Eggle. He was shot in 2002 by a Mexican national who had fled into the park after committing a crime on the other side of the border. This spotlighted the security issues in the monument, border patrol presence increased dramatically and for years afterwards whole sections of the park were closed to visitors. Today with increased park staff and reduced incidents on the border, the park is once again open for business.

Biosphere Reserve Plaque Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

Biosphere Reserve Plaque
Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

President Roosevelt created the monument by proclamation in 1937 for its exceptional Sonoran Desert habitat and as the northern most range of the Organ Pipe Cactus. In 1976 the park was also declared a biosphere reserve under the international Man and Biosphere program, which seeks to conserve examples of ecosystems around the world. Sustaining these values in particularly the Mountain Lions and the newly revitalized herd of Sonoran Antelope, is challenged by the boundary defenses. At this time wildlife population seem to be able to navigate around the high wall that only seals off a quarter of the park, but questions remain.

Crossing the Rio Grande  Big Bend National Park

Crossing the Rio Grande
Big Bend National Park

The National Park with the biggest footprint on the border sits on the big bend of the Rio Grande River in Texas.  Because of its remote location and the ecological values of its riverine boundary, there are no barriers on the border in Big Bend National Park. On a visit a of couple years ago, we watched local residents ride back and forth across the river as they have done for centuries. Just as at Organ Pipe, visitors to the park are provide with cautionary advice  and sent on their way to enjoy this special Chihuahuan Desert environment.  Authorized by Congress in 1937, the park was recently added to the US World Heritage Tentative list for its outstanding universal natural values.

Chamizal National Memorial  El Paso TX

Chamizal National Memorial
El Paso TX

Chamizal National Memorial is not only right on the border between the US and Mexico, the mission of this small, 55-acre site, in El Paso Texas is to memorialize that border. It was created in part by the 1966 Treaty of Chamizal that resolved a long running border dispute between the two countries.  The recently prepared Foundation Document for the park defines the site’s significance as commemorating these successful diplomatic negotiations,  the complex  geography of the border,  and the  cultural connection between the people of the two nations. Very different than the other parks, Chamizal is in an intensely urban environment with the channelized Rio Grande as one boundary and car traffic from the nearby border crossing causing both noise and air pollution on another. Among many challenges at the site, the document noted that NPS staff were unable to officially travel to the sister park Parque Publico Federal et Chamizal on the Mexican side, which constrains the cross border programming and partnership part of the memorial’s charge.

Mexican border  Chamizal National Memorial

Mexican border
Chamizal National Memorial

So here we have three vignettes of the current conditions facing US National Parks in carrying out their mission on the nation’s southern border.  Recent proposals to harden the infrastructure of the border, for example to build a wall, and to increase militarization and enforcement will not make this any easier for our protected area managers.  But I take hope from our Organ Pipe ranger’s concluding words. He said these are not National Park Service lands, not even the federal government’s land, they are your public lands, you own them. Let’s protect this priceless legacy.

 

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More Than Campfire Conversation

By Guest Observer January 29, 2017

By Rolf Diamant

* this article originally appeared in the The George Wright Forum, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 271–274 (2016)

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt insisted on camping alone with John Muir while the president was on a tour of Yosemite. This encounter no doubt encouraged Roosevelt to support the eventual inclusion of Yosemite Valley into the larger Yosemite National Park. With the 2016 National Park Service (NPS) commemorations winding down, I took another look at the agency’s centennial webpage where there is a special feature with the biographies of “early national park visionary leaders.” Muir and Roosevelt are there, reunited once again and given top billing as the lead visionaries of the national park movement, along with Stephen Mather, the politically adroit and charismatic first NPS director.

“The Early Leaders,” from the National Park Service website.

“The Early Leaders,” from the National Park Service website.

 

They are all credited with “groundbreaking ideas preserving America’s treasures for future generations,” with Muir praised as “the father of national parks.”

Roosevelt was of course a great conservation-minded president and Muir was a brilliant publicist and a passionate and influential park and wilderness advocate. However, national parks had already been in existence for more than 30 years at the time of the camping trip, and the establishment of a National Park Service would not happen until 1916, 13 years later, when Roosevelt had long been out of office and John Muir was dead. What is most striking about this official web feature is not only who is being given all the credit but also who is being erased, in effect, from this high-profile NPS history lesson.

To begin with, there is no mention of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and his landmark Yosemite Report, or of his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who penned the compelling statement of purpose for the 1916 Organic Act. The elder Olmsted’s 1865 park plan for Yosemite Valley presciently called for the “establishment by government of great public grounds for the free enjoyment of the people”—a prescription for a future system of national parks. There is no mention of Congressman John Lacey, principal sponsor of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which has been referred to by historians as the first national park service “organic act.” And there is no mention of J. Horace McFarland, long-time leader of the American Civic Association, who was the driving force behind 16 bills introduced into Congress to establish a national park service. Neither is there any mention given to Mary Belle King Sherman, also known as “the national park lady,” who mobilized 3,000 clubs and nearly one million mem- bers of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs behind McFarland’s campaign. Looking years into the future, Sherman envisioned the contributions national parks would make to American civic life and education, asserting that they provide “the better, greater things of life” possessing “some of the characteristics of the museum, the library, the fine arts hall, and the public school.”

Part of this official adulation of John Muir, as “the father of national parks,” is, I suspect, in part due to his larger-than-life popularity with contemporary environmentalists and wilderness enthusiasts. The fabled Roosevelt–Muir encounter was also a story made for television. In 2009, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan obliged, devoting part of an episode of their documentary series on national parks to the Muir–Roosevelt camping trip in Yo- semite—further canonizing the two, in the public’s eye, as the main architects of “America’s best idea.” NPS has made little official effort in the centennial to present a more inclusive, scholarship-based narrative. This has been a recurring problem for the agency. For much of the 20th century NPS clung to a story, discredited by its own historians, that the national park idea was first suggested by explorer Cornelius Hedges seated around a campfire in the Yellowstone wilderness. A high-level NPS official once said, when scholars challenged the story, “If it didn’t happen we would have been well advised to invent it.”

In the case of the 2016 centennial web page, I am not questioning the very significant contributions Muir, Roosevelt, and Mather made to conservation and national parks, but the story being told is too neat and woefully incomplete. This was just what the Organization of American Historians’ report Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, issued in 2011, five years before the centennial, cautioned NPS to avoid: interpretation that is “less the product of training and expertise and more the expression of conven- tional wisdom.”

I think the inclusion of Olmsted (and, for that matter, his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.), Lacey, McFarland, and Sherman could have in fact strengthened the overarching themes of the 2016 centennial campaign in a number of helpful ways:

“The Early Leaders,” re-imagined by The George Wright Forum.

“The Early Leaders,” re-imagined by The George Wright Forum.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.—forcefully argued that the concept of protecting special places for the benefit of all people, not only privileged groups, has always been an idea worth fighting for. His example suggests that meaningful change arises from an engaged citizenry and the duty of government, based on principles of “equity and benevolence.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.—called for an agency with the highest ethical and profes- sional standards and understood and consistently promoted the advantages of a strong and unified system of national parks.

Congressman John Lacey—made profound contributions to American conservation and reminds us all that NPS cares for places with multiple values and layers of meaning. In our current era of scaled-up landscape conservation, there are lessons to be learned from the way Lacey brought natural, scientific, cultural, spiritual, recreational, and eth- nographic interests together in a big conservation tent.

J. Horace McFarland—repeatedly emphasized that public lands are the heritage of all Americans and are essential to the health and well-being of our democracy; or, as he said, “a plain necessity for good citizenship.”

Mary Belle King Sherman—clearly saw how central to continuous life-long learning national parks could be, and how education and civic engagement have always been a fundamental purpose of public land stewardship.

A 2016 election postscript
The results of the recent election mean there will likely be hard times ahead for America’s national park system. Park supporters everywhere will have to resist the temptation to retreat into a defensive posture solely focused on protecting park resources and budgets while putting aside or perhaps abandoning our highest aspirations for the future of the national park system. Though many difficult and painful battles over resources and budgets may lie ahead, there are higher purposes for the system also at stake—a broad vision that had its roots with people like the Olmsteds, Lacey, McFarland, and Sherman. It is a vision that has been refined and expanded by several incarnations of the National Park System Advisory Board since the 2001 John Hope Franklin report, by the careful work of the 2009 National Park Second Century Commission, and by the 2016 NPS/National Park Foundation centennial campaign that is now concluding. This is a vision of a national park system that is inclusive and committed to engaging diverse constituencies in cooperative stewardship and life-long, real-world learning. It is a vision that always embraces the best current science and scholarship. It is a vision that values national parks and programs for their many contributions to climate resiliency, to ecosystem services, and to the public health and well-being of the nation.
It is a vision we have to hold on to.

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Listening to Zinke: The Landscape Ahead?

By Brenda Barrett January 28, 2017

Gold Butte Nevada Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior

Gold Butte Nevada
Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior

At his confirmation hearing on January 17, 2017, Representative Ryan Zinke (R MT) spoke up before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and shared his vision for the position of Secretary of Interior. The leadership of the Department of Interior is central to the future of protecting the nation’s landscapes. Those who care about conservation at scale, protected areas, and our cultural heritage were listening carefully to what he had to say.

What did we hear? Zinke kicked off his opening remarks by declaring his unabashed admiration of Theodore Roosevelt as his conservation hero and he made historical references to Pinchot and Muir in framing his answers to other questions from members of the committee. So far so good,  he then laid out his top priorities for the department as:

The first is to restore trust by working with rather than against local communities and states. I fully recognize that there is distrust, anger, and even hatred against some federal management policies. Being a listening advocate rather than a deaf adversary is a good start.

 Second, is to prioritize the estimated $12.5 billion in backlog of maintenance and repair in our national parks. The president-elect is committed to a jobs and infrastructure bill, and I am going to need your help in making sure that bill includes shoring up our Nations treasures.

 And third, to ensure the professionals on the front line, our rangers and field managers, have the right tools, right resources, and flexibility to make the right decisions that give a voice to the people they serve.

For National Park advocates, his words held out real hope that promises on the campaign trail about infrastructure investments might be turned into real benefits for our aging park system. Although Zinke added a dose of reality, stating that while it is his job to convince the new president that parks should be high on the administration’s agenda, congress needs to step as well. And he asked for the committee’s help in getting the necessary funds to tackle the backlog. Drawing on his military background (he served for 26 years as a Navy Seal) he noted, “we can fly the helicopter, but you must supply the gas”.

It is also interesting that Representative Zinke’s other two priorities dealt with the human dimension of delivering the department’s mission – building trust with people on the ground is clearly influenced by his western perspective issue and authorizing the “ground troops” to implement national policy is good tactical leadership. He talked a fair bit about collaboration as a strategy and his strong support for local partners coming together to tackle conservation issues. He specifically said that to make this approach work collaborative planning needs to be incentivized. It also needs to be based on science and set targets to measure success.. On partnership programs, he emphasized his backing for permanent and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and also spoke to the importance of trails both on and off public land. Overall he emphasized the theme of consultation, collaboration and communication

At the hearing Representative Zinke stated his unequivocal support for keeping public land public.  When specifically asked, he stated, “I am absolutely against the transfer or sale of public land”. It should be noted that he has put his money where his mouth is on this issue.  Last year he left his post on the GOP platform writing committee, after the group included language in support of transferring federal lands to the states.

These are positive indicators, but one of the big questions both in the hearing room and on everyone’s mind is his position on the Antiquities Act and more specifically the recent Obama administration’s designations in Nevada and Utah. When queried, he said that the better way to designate national monuments is with the support of the adjacent communities, the states and congressional delegation. On the question of whether recently designated monuments could be de-designated, he said that was for the lawyers to decide. And under questioning, he agreed that no such process explicitly described in the act. However, he has already committed to visit the 1.35 million acres of federal land that make up Bears Ears Butte in southeastern Utah and about 300,000 acres of Gold Butte in Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas. These recently designated monuments are exemplars of the scale need to conserve our natural  and cultural heritage. How the department position on  these iconic western landscapes will be an important signpost for the future.

On hot button issues Zinke tried to strike a measured tone. When asked about renewable energy and traditional energy development on public land, he said “all of the above’ and expressed his support for a strong economy and energy independence. On climate change he agreed that the climate is changing, but did not attribute any definitive causation.

All things considered, conservationists should take heart from Zinke’s opening words at the hearing: Upfront, I am an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and believe he had it right when he placed under federal protection millions of acres of federal lands and set aside much of it as National Forests. Today, much of those lands provide American’s the opportunity to hike, fish, camp, recreate and enjoy the great outdoors.

But here are some concluding thoughts. In the next days and months, the Department of Interior will be flooded with political operatives and representatives of energy development schemes all seeking to catch the ear of the new Secretary of Interior.  They will not be interested in the words of Teddy Roosevelt or the values that public lands offer the American people. Representative Zinke needs to hear loud and clear that his vision is strongly supported by land conservationists, sportsmen, heritage areas managers, and everyday citizens or his department will be swamped by competing agendas.

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And Now for the Next Four Years

By Brenda Barrett December 12, 2016

Mount Rushmore National Memorial  Courtesey of: Wikipedia Commons

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Courtesey of: Wikipedia Commons

For years I have told my family and friends that I am one issue voter and my issue is the United States National Park Service.  Which political candidate is most committed to America’s best idea? Who embraces the vision that our parks and protected areas are part of the nation’s common wealth and should reflect the complex stories that make up our country? What party recognizes that government service has value and that protecting public lands is a collective enterprise? How will a particular candidate or party fund and invest in the now 413 park units and the many national park programs that touch almost every American community? Because these questions are not just about one government agency, they go to the heart of the conservation of our natural and cultural heritage.  As the old saying goes – How you do one thing is how you do everything.

 It is way too early to speculate and predict exactly how landscape scale conservation will fare in the next four years under newly elected president. An earlier article (Landscape Scale Conservation: The Next Four Years) August 30, 2016 examined both the Democratic and Republican platforms with the caveat that these documents are always imperfect reflections of what direction a presidential candidate will take.  Now while it is still early days, we have somewhat more concrete directions from the newly elected President Donald Trump’s 110 Day Plan.

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Energy and environmental protection take up a lot of space in this plan with calls to rescind restrictions on drilling and mining, lift roadblocks to pipelines and energy infrastructure, and cancel our international support for climate change programs. This part of the agenda puts a big bulls eye on all public lands including national parks.  Also of concern is a proposed hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health). Most heart breaking is that this was proposed not for financial expediency, but is listed as number two of six measures designed to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC.  What does this say to the next generation who want to grow up to be foresters, wildlife biologist or national park rangers? What are we to do with all those Junior Ranger badges?

Print Shop Benjamin Franklin Memorial Philadelphia PA

Print Shop
Benjamin Franklin Memorial Philadelphia PA

So what now? This is still early days and there will be a new Secretary of Interior and a new Director of the National Park Service who will bring their ideas on how to implement this agenda. However, the beauty of large landscape work is that it draws strength from a mix of public and private partnerships. This model of dispersed leadership and support makes it a resilient approach. One that can navigate the political headwinds that may lie ahead. For those of you engaged with cultural and natural conservation work in you landscape large, keep up the good work and double down. And consider joining up with a larger community to advocate for conservation in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson just to name some of my presidential conservation  heroes!

Let me suggest some of my favorite places to find like-minded people with powerful ideas:

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks    – Membership is open to anyone who ever worked for the NPS and there is a supporter category as those who align with the mission of protecting parks. This small but, high profile organization has an effective record of advocating for National Parks issues from snowmobiling in Yellowstone to defending the agency’s management policies.  Membership is free although donations are encouraged and comes with a monthly on-line newsletter. Contributions of time, experience as well as dollars are always welcome.

Practioner’s Network for Large Landscape Conservation  A broad based coalition established to advance the practice of large landscape conservation across all sectors and geographies. The Network’s strength is in the diversity of individuals and organizations that are actively engaged and who are creating a collective body of knowledge, experience, and commitment to advancing conservation at the landscape scale. Membership donations are voluntary and your expertise and advocacy are always welcome.

Preservation Action  A small organization, but a big advocate for historic preservation issues. The source for the latest information on legislation and policy matters in the field.  A basic membership is $40 and the weekly online newsletter covers breaking news and what is going on in the world of US heritage. In partnership with other national organizations, Preservation Action organizes an annual lobby day in Washington DC in mid-March.

US ICOMOS  Maintaining our connections to global heritage is more important than ever. A membership in US/ICOMOS opens the door to international best practices through knowledge exchanges, scientific committees, symposiums, and the organization’s well respected international exchange program for students and young professionals. Join at the international level and your ICOMOS card will open doors, at no or low cost, to museums and historic sites around the world.

Make it your New Year’s resolution to join at least one of these organizations and give yourself and others the gift of fellowship and advocacy.

 

 

 

 

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Lamar Buffalo Ranch and the Landscape of Wildlife Conservation

By Brenda Barrett November 1, 2016

Lamar Buffalo Ranch Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Buffalo Ranch
Yellowstone National Park

Oh Give me a home where the buffalo roam” goes the old cowboy song, but the fact that 21st century citizens can still enjoy the star of this song was a very close call.  According to the U S Fish and Wildlife Service   estimates of the North American bison population at the time of European contact range from 30-75 million animals. However, by 1900 intensive hunting and a purposeful program of eradication to deprive American Indians of their livelihood had reduced the population to near extinction.  At that time Yellowstone National Park counted only 25 bison in residence. Thanks to a citizen’s campaign, Congress allocated funds to purchase 21 additional animals from private sources and begin a breeding program at what is now known as the Lamar Ranch in the park’s Lamar Valley.

American Bison  Yellowstone National Park

American Bison
Yellowstone National Park

This is a success story. Today over 4,000 bison roam the range in Yellowstone National Park and they are a character defining part of the landscape. The evocative Lamar Buffalo Ranch, with its quintessential weathered western buildings (1905- 1930),  is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors who stop by the ranch can get a short history from an interpretive sign. But less well known, is the role the ranch played in the reintroduction of wolves to the park.

The last wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park was eliminated in 1926. Again after a long campaign and much controversy, Congress appropriated the funds for a reintroduction  program. In 1995,  thirty-one Canadian  Grey Wolves were brought to pens at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch to acclimatize to the park before being released. Today there are approximately 100 wolves in the park with many of the packs concentrated in the rich hunting ground of the Lamar Valley.  The ripple effect on the elk herd specifically and the park’s ecosystem overall of the introduction of a top predator is fodder for another story at another time.

Wildlife Watching Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Wildlife Watching Lamar Valley
Yellowstone National Park

I would like to make a different point. Millions of tourists come to Yellowstone every year. Thousands of them line the roads through the Lamar Valley – getting up at dawn and watching for hours to marvel at herds of buffalo and to catch a glimpse of a wolf. The Lamar Buffalo  Ranch now serves as an education center for the Yellowstone Association and the buildings have been restored as models of off the grid environmental stewardship. But I wonder how many understand the full story of human intervention into this place. Preventing the American Bison from disappearing from this landscape took intense effort.  As for the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, the park web site describes the work that took place there in the following terms, “ A program to raise bison like domestic cattle in Yellowstone may seem incongruous and unnecessary in retrospect..”  I am not sure that is how I would tell the story. Yes, yes the vista of grazing herds in the Lamar Valley may seem so natural us today that we may think it always looked that way. And yes, we may want to repress the role that humans played in wrangling bison back into the landscape, let alone the tale of how we slaughtered the millions.  But that would be a mistake.

Morning in the Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Morning in the Lamar Valley
Yellowstone National Park

And as for the wolves, the reintroduction is still so controversial that the park’s web site looks like the docket of a small claims court of environmental justice where wolves are listed and delisted as endangered species with head snapping frequency. The role of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the wolf story has not yet even made into the official history. But when you go to Yellowstone (and I hope you will) head to the Lamar Valley, stand in front of the ranch, and contemplate the role we as humans have played in creating and almost destroying  the wildlife that we enjoy today. And know that nothing is static, and only continued advocacy and at times active intervention will conserve these  landscapes for future generations. .

 

 

 

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Politicians, Conservationists, And National Parks

By Guest Observer February 21, 2016

It’s rich political theater, watching the ongoing debate over a possible national park in Maine’s North Woods as well as the long-running efforts to resolve land-use practices on millions of federal acres in Utah. Boasts have been made, promises allegedly discarded, and no resolution in either state has been made.

Seemingly ignored have been residents of the two states, as the politicians opposing a new national park in Maine and those opposed to a new national monument in Utah are ignoring majorities who have voiced support for both. About the only thing that has been assured through the sound bites, letter writing, and draft legislation is that neither issue will be resolved soon.

Maine North Woods –Letter writing and bluster have been the latest developments in the years-long debate over whether Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby can hand over some 100,000 acres of her private property to the National Park Service for a North Woods park adjacent to Baxter State Park, one that would have spectacular views of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Last week Maine Gov. Paul LePage directed the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to reestablish a road through Ms. Quimby’s lands to state-owned lands within her tract. In issuing that order, the governor said the state-owned acreage were “threatened by efforts to create a National Park/National Monument in the Millinocket area.”

“Despite lack of local support and lack of support from members of Maine’s Congressional delegation, this proposal has now changed direction,” said Governor LePage in a release. “Through the use of high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., the Quimby family has focused its efforts on lobbying the Obama Administration, seeking to have the President use sweeping authority granted to him under the Antiquities Act to unilaterally designate this area a National Monument.”

While the governor maintained there was lack of local support for a national park or monument, a survey last summer of the congressional district that would be most affected by creation of a Katahdin Woods and Waters National Park and National Recreation Area overwhelmingly voiced support for it. And according to the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, a recent statewide survey found that 60 percent of Maine residents support the idea.

In response to the governor’s directive, Ms. Quimby said if the state wants to upgrade its right-of-way to reach the 2,500 acres, she won’t object. “The [right of way] to the public land cited by the governor has never been denied,” she said Saturday. “With little wood of commercial value to harvest, the [right of way] has not been maintained by the state. If the state wishes to upgrade its [right of way] to begin a harvesting operation, so be it. No argument from us.”

Meanwhile, three members of Maine’s congressional delegation were miffed with a response National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis wrote to address their concerns that the president might turn to the Antiquities Act to create a monument. In their letter to the president (attached) sent in November, the delegation urged him not to turn to his pen to establish a monument but rather to send “financial support for research to back the development and use of wood products and fibers, advanced engineering projects that use wood, and support for policies that will create strong markets for wood products.”

The three — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, Jr., and Rep Bruce Poliquin — went on to say that if the president was determined to designate a monument, he should direct in his proclamation that all currently allowed recreational uses in Maine be permitted in the monument, that “proper forest management, including timber harvesting,” be allowed, that all state or private lands adjacent to a monument continue to have easements and rights-of-way (e.g., roads), with “freedom from view shed, air quality, or buffer zone regulations or requirements.”

In short, the delegation doesn’t want any monument to come with limitations on how the land would be maintained or accessed.In responding to the politicians for the president, Director Jarvis pointed out the economic benefits of a national park.”Last year, the National Park Service recorded 305 million visitors to the (National Park) System, which generated over $16 billion into the economies of communities within 60 miles of parks,” he wrote in his letter (attached). “… The NPS experience has been that such influxes of new visitors result in the launching (of) new businesses to start, such as food and beverage, lodging, guides and outfitters, and camping and outdoor supply. Often local entertainment and other attractions appear in neighboring areas. Land values often increase as well.”

That said, the director added, there can be challenges and negative impacts associated with an NPS property.  “The DOI (Department of the Interior) looks forward to the opportunity to better understand these and other issues as you continue to solicit public input and lead this option dialogue about how best to protect important resources within your communities, while recognizing the economic needs in the region. We also appreciate you sharing your thoughts on what you believe would be critically important considerations ranging from public access to private property rights, for your communities if the Federal Government received a land donation for a park or similar use,” he wrote.

The politicians weren’t mollified, however, and took exception that Director Jarvis didn’t respond directly to their requirements concerning state and private property rights, access, logging, and recreational activities, as well as state management oversight for any monument.“These conditions are critical to ensuring that future economic activities in the Katahdin region are not stifled by burdensome regulations that upset the Maine tradition of multi-use working forests,” Sens. Collins and King wrote.

Utah Public Lands – When U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz last month released their long-awaited Public Lands Initiative for designating wilderness, releasing lands from wilderness consideration, expanding Arches National Park, and basically deciding how millions of federal acres in eastern Utah should be managed, they said there was a lot to like, and a lot not to like, in the draft legislation. Those who have found aspects not to like have been vocal lately.

In their response to Rep. Bishop, the Grand Canyon Trust pretty much rejected the draft in its entirety. Our opposition is rooted in the fact that the PLI does not represent a positive, solution-oriented step toward resolving land use and land tenure matters in eastern Utah. Chief among the harms contained in PLI are: management language not found elsewhere in law that undermines new wilderness and national conservation areas; special management areas and canyon country recreation zones that weaken existing protections; release and hard release of millions of acres of deserving potential wilderness; disposal of lands far in excess of standards set forth by the Public Purposes and Recreation Act; a wildly unbalanced and unfair SITLA state land exchange; creation of “energy zones” in excess of 2.5 million acres where multiple-use land management principles are cast aside and the reality of climate change is unacknowledged; excessive grants of RS 2477 road claims and a Book Cliffs Highway corridor to the State of Utah; hobbling of livestock management necessary to conserve ecosystems and species; inadequate provisions respecting sovereign Native American tribes with regard to protection and management of the Bears Ears cultural landscape; and the stated goal of the authors of PLI to place limitations on the President’s authority to use the Antiquities Act of 1906.

At the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Sharon Buccino, the group’s director for its Land and Wildlife Program, wrote the two Republicans that their vision “does not represent the values of the diverse stakeholders that have been engaged.”

Some of our greatest concerns with the PLI discussion draft include:

* Provisions that would undermine the integrity of the Wilderness Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act;

* Language that would undercut the management of proposed wilderness areas, national conservation areas, special management areas, and recreation zones;

* Unprecedented giveaways to the State of Utah, including the sanctioning of questionable R.S. 2477 claims and the establishment of 10,000 miles of unnecessary public roads;

* Designation of over 2.5 million acres of energy zones that will allow development to override other considerations;

* Insufficient protections for critical cultural resources, including provisions that would allow San Juan County to supersede sovereign tribal considerations;

* The hard release of over two million acres of public land, much of it wilderness quality land that should be permanently safeguarded.

The PLI discussion draft, as it now stands, is a missed opportunity to resolve longstanding issues that deserve a more deliberative approach—one that fully assimilates input from stakeholders who have been historically invested in how these critical public lands should be managed and safeguarded for generations to come.

As to what Utah residents want, a survey earlier this year by Colorado College found that 47 percent of the respondents oppose giving federal lands to the state, and that 65 percent “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” a “Bears Ears National Monument” that would protect some 1.9 million acres “in large part to protect cliff dwellings and sacred American Indian sites.”

Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz have opposed such a monument, and instead have called for a 1.2-million-acre Bears Ears National Conservation Area.Last week the entire Utah congressional delegation wrote President Obama urged him not to designate the Bears Ears National Monument. In their letter, the delegation stated that “(F)ederal land-use policy has a major impact on the lives of those residing within and near federal lands. We believe the wisest land-use decisions are made with community involvement and local support.”

If 65 percent support isn’t enough, how much is?

This article was written by Kurt Repanshek Editor and Founder of the National Park Traveler and was first published on February 15th, 2016 in the Traveler’s Newsletter.

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San Antonio Missions: Learning from the World Heritage Experience

By Brenda Barrett February 21, 2016

Mission San Jose San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Credit: Dan Stern

Mission San Jose
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Credit: Dan Stern

On October 17, 2015 dignitaries from around the country gathered to celebrate the inscription of the San Antonio Missions as the 23rd World Heritage Site in the Untied States (US) and the first in Texas. The San Antonio Missions are a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along an over seven mile stretch of the San Antonio River. Inscribed under Work Heritage Criterion ii the missions are described as “ an example of the interweaving of the cultures of the Spanish and the Coahuiltecan and other indigenous peoples, illustrated in a variety of elements, including the integration of the indigenous settlements towards the central plaza, the decorative elements of the churches which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous natural designs, and the post-secularization evidence which remains in several of the missions and illustrates the loyalty to the shared values beyond missionary rule. The substantial remains of the water distribution systems are yet another expression of this interchange between indigenous peoples, missionaries, and colonizers that contributed to a fundamental and permanent change in the cultures and values of those involved.”

Behind the well-deserved World Heritage hoopla and the carefully crafted statement of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, there is more than a decade of hard work. As interested in World Heritage recognition grows in the country and around the globe, what can we learn from the hard won experience of the San Antonio Missions? A few lesson for existing and aspiring World Heritage properties are:

Think long term – While the first official step is gaining a spot on the state parties tentative list; this is preceded by many prerequisites. For example n the US cultural properties must first be designated as a National Historic Landmark. All this takes a good deal of time. The San Antonio Missions were officially proposed for the World Heritage Tentative list in a 2006 Federal Register listing.

Seek Out champions –The International Office of the National Park Service (NPS) manages the development of the tentative list and in partnership the State Department determines, which sites will be proffered to the world body ICOMOS for consideration. There is no question that determined champions are critical. In the case of the missions the number of advocates was along one starting with the nationally respected San Antonio Conservation Societ . Also important were the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park’s  friends groups Los Compadres. Finally, unified political support at the city, county, state and national support was invaluable.

 Gain expert support – Only properties that meet the World Heritage criteria for Outstanding Universal Value can be considered for inscription. The NPS and the park leadership contributed their expertise behind the effort to nominate the missions. They helped convene an experts meeting 2012 to help frame the argument for World Heritage designation. They also hired an professional in preparing the dossier for presentation to the World Heritage Committee.

Anticipate the Management Plan – Just as challenging in many ways as making the case for Outstanding Universal Value is developing a credible management plan for the resource. Particular difficult is to develop a buffer to zone to protect the property. While this might be easier in a discrete historic sites, the missions located in a complex urban and rural with multiple property owners. What made the management plan for the resource credible was all the historic preservation land use controls that had been implemented for the region over the last several decades.

Be prepared to spend money – A World Heritage nomination is a pricey document. While the San Antonio supporter raised several hundred thousand dollars, they estimate that over half a million in in kind services were contributed to the effort. These included a NPS expert staff position In addition, much of lead writer and historian’s time was donated as well a, student interns and untold volunteer hours from the friends group and the Conservation Society helped reduce the costs.

After designation the real work begins! – After a site is listed what is next? In San Antonio a community where tourism is economic development; the promotional opportunities of the designation are very important. However, the community is also using the designation to deepen their connection to the past and the heritage of its diverse citizens. To learn more about ongoing programing on the World Heritage at the missions, visit the excellent San Antonio Missions Word Heritage *Our Heritage web site. 

Many thanks to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park staff Susan Snow who serves as the site’s World Heritage Coordinator and  to Tom Costanos, Volunteer and Partnership Coordinator, both of whom gave generously of their time. All the wise words were from them, any errors are mine!

 

 

 

 

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The 2016 Federal Budget: How did Large Landscapes Fare?

By Brenda Barrett January 11, 2016

small-logo-lighthouseAfter months of uncertainty, weeks of negotiations and two short-term extensions to keep the government open, Congress passed and the President signed the 2009 page omnibus spending Bill, titled the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. How did federal initiatives that support landscape scale work and fund our natural and cultural conservation program fare?

 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund

Ding, Ding, Ding! Only three dings as Congress limited reauthorization of the now 50-year old fund to just three years. However, the good news is that it is still around and with $450 million allocated for the coming fiscal year much good work can be accomplished at the state and national level. Landscape work was specifically recognized in an appropriations for a number of large scale projects including an appropriation for the Rivers of the Chesapeake. This Collaborative Landscape proposal received $11 million for land conservation in the Chesapeake region and $2 million for supporting a range of public access and conservation efforts along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. It is estimated that this targeted funding will protect 2,100 acres of land in this threatened watershed.

The Historic Preservation Fund

small-logo-bridgeNot quite such good news to kick off the celebration of the fiftieth Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. The appropriations bill did not include the reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund, which expired on September 30th. 2015. This means that action on a bill (HR 2817) to reauthorize the fund will have to wait till the New Year. However, there was some good news. Overall the bill funds the HPF at $65.41 million, an increase of $9 million over FY15 enacted levels.

The funding breakdown for State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices is as follows: $46.925 million for SHPOs (equal to FY15 enacted levels),
$9.985 million for THPOs ($1 million above FY15 enacted levels),
$8 million in grants to preserve the sites and stories of the Civil Rights Movement and $500,000 in grants for underrepresented communities.

The National Heritage Areas

Generally good news as funding remained level at $19,821 million. Since the program has been without strong administration support, just holding on to a level appropriation has been an annual struggle. In addition the 2016 act extended the funding authorization for three areas and increased the funding authorization caps for four other areas. Overall Congress showed an interest in sustaining the program.

One twist to watch is the transfer of $625,000 funding that in the past went to the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor https://blackstoneheritagecorridor.org   from the national heritage areas program account to the new Blackstone Valley Historic Park. As for now the heritage corridor and the new park are working closely together. The heritage corridor’s level of staffing and on the ground facilities like visitor centers are a boon to a park that is just finding its feet. How will blurring of the lines between what has been traditionally been an external program and a new unit of the national park system work out in the long run? Since this is a year-to-year arrangement, we have to wait and see.

The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

small-logo-archaeologistFive years ago the Department of the Interior launched the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) to better integrate science and management to address climate change and other landscape scale issues through collaborative networks that are grounded in science. As one might imagine congressional funding for this program has been a point of contention. Despite threats to severely reduce or even eliminate the program, the final appropriation for the 2016 budget the LCC was only reduced by $1 million in the Cooperative Landscapes account — from $13,988,000 in FY15 to $12,988,0.  The LCC budget in the Adaptive Science account remains at the FY15 level — $10,517,000. So the final outcome should be seen as a win for the landscape approach to resource management. To learn more about the LCCs read the just released National Academy report A Review of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.  

Overall this is good news considering the current congressional environment. Can we see any patterns in these encouraging outcomes? Well a few:

  • The public sees such programs, particularly the long established ones, as beneficial and conserving the things they care about.
  • Advocacy is an essential part of program survival. High marks go to the coalition to reauthorize the Land and Water program. They have had an impressive ground game and media presence.
  • While not conclusive, positive evaluations of the program such as the recent study on the LCCs and the reports on the National Heritage Areas might have turned the tide on the funding issue.

Readers do you have any other observation? All good ideas welcomed as next year will not be any easier!

PS If you like the posters celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, you can order them at the Preservation 50 web site!  

 

 

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The U.S. Biosphere Reserve Program: Can the challenges of the past contribute to the resiliency of the future?

By Guest Observer October 25, 2015

 

Big Bend National Park: A Biosphere Reserve

Big Bend National Park: A Biosphere Reserve

It is easy to acknowledge our current state in UNESCO’s international Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program, but neglect to see how we got to this point. As one of the innovators in large landscape conservation, biosphere reserves paved the path for many future landscape-scale efforts over the past several decades. Yet, most people in the United States are unfamiliar with the term, biosphere reserve, or assume the program has dissolved because of its long period of inactivity. While many countries’ biosphere programs have grown around the world, the United States’ relationship with the MAB program has been quite tumultuous. Serving as a role model in the international program in the 80s and 90s, the U.S. program’s reputation was quickly transformed by the skepticism of a few vocal groups worried about land sovereignty and any program associated with the United Nations among other challenges. While this contributed to the downfall of the U.S. program, it is important to look at the evolution of the program instead of just a snapshot in time. For example, there were many factors that contributed and inhibited the success of the program at the beginning and these differed from challenges faced decades later.

Big Bend National Park: A Biospehere Reserve

Big Bend National Park: A Biospehere Reserve

While the biosphere program now coexists among many newer large landscape initiatives, their significance continues to serve as a foundation for other efforts. The long history and evolution of the biosphere reserve program can offer lessons learned for many of these new initiatives such as identifying obstacles to anticipate and offering strategies to overcome these governance challenges. In addition, biosphere reserves’ long history has created an invaluable network of relationships that have strengthened over the past several decades, which serve as a key benefit for newly emerging collaborative efforts.

In a recent attempt to revive the U.S. biosphere reserve program over the past year, there is a renewed enthusiasm for the U.S. to reengage with the international network. However, with a decade of inactivity the U.S. has a long road ahead to rebuild the image of the biosphere reserve concept and gain the necessary support at the local, regional, and national levels. Some of the recent activities have included reestablishing the U.S. National MAB Committee, individual units submitting reviews to UNESCO to maintain their biosphere reserve designation, and engaging in international meetings with MAB constituents. Additionally, Biosphere Associates has emerged as an organization this past spring as a forum for professionals to collaborate on biosphere reserve efforts. Some of these efforts include creating an information-sharing platform, gaining a better understanding of the needs and perceptions of the individual biosphere reserve units, strengthening international partnerships, and supporting the efforts of the National Committee.

It is through these voluntary efforts and support that maintains the momentum for the U.S. to once again become an active participant in the international MAB network. For the program to reach its full potential, the U.S. program needs to learn from its history and also from other large landscape conservation efforts. Quoting from George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For the success of the U.S. biosphere reserve program and new large landscape initiatives, let us learn from the past to anticipate and actively respond to challenges in order to create a more resilient future.

The author Jennifer Thomsen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Society and Conservation at the University of Montana. She has done research that involved biosphere reserve units in the U.S., serves on the U.S. National MAB Committee, and is leading the working groups in Biosphere Associates. Her research interests focus on large landscape conservation and stakeholder collaboration. To get involved in biosphere reserve efforts or if you have any questions, contact Jennifer at jennifer.thomsen@umontana.

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The National Park Service Brand: Do I have a Franchising Opportunity for You!

By Brenda Barrett September 28, 2015

 

Courtesy of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Courtesy of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Over the last year the George Wright Journal has been running a series of Centennial Essays reflecting varying perspectives on the future of the National Park Service. The most recent piece by Holly Fretwell, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana, offers a different viewpoint on how to address the agency’s difficult financial situation and the public’s desire for more national parks (George Wright Forum Vol. 32 No. 2 2015). Her proposal in a nutshell – what if the NPS were to franchise the NPS brand and offer it to entrepreneurs to run new park sites that were deemed to be of national significance? Then these new units could remain under local governance, but would be given “national park” stature.

As the centennial approaches all things should be on the table. The NPS has proposed a package of anniversary legislative initiatives with a focus on creating a range of new funding streams. The call to action by conservative conservationists, who represent the views of many members of Congress, is quite different. It is their position that the NPS needs to take care what it has and concentrate the nation’s limited dollars on the ‘crown jewels’.

Yet how to deal with both the public’s and politician’s desire for new parks? Her suggestion is to re-imagine the NPS brand as a franchising opportunity. This is not new idea. The Smithsonian has been doing this for years with their Affiliates programAnd going all the way, the once nonprofit National Geographic Society just sold their magazine, books, maps and other media to a consortium headed by 21st Century Fox the Rupert Murdoch controlled company that owns the Fox television network and the Fox news, for $725 million.

Needless to say it is unlikely that the many voices who are committed to ‘America’s Best Idea’ will embrace this approach. The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and National Parks Traveler have both come out with a spirited defense for an expansionist approach. See for example the editorial The National Park System: Why it should continue to Grow.

Fretwell argues that given the current fiscal climate, Congress is understandably reluctant to allocate the dollars needed to manage existing new park units, let alone funding new additions. And at the same time it is politically popular to keep naming new areas and cut those celebratory ribbons. So to bridge the gap she endorses expanding such existing programs like the Fee Demonstration Project and raising user fees all around. However, her big idea is that the American public needs a new model to manage new national parks in the future – let those constituents who seek national park status create and maintain them. This new model would operate more like a charter school or a franchise. The NPS as franchisor would license the use of the brand and provide general support. The agency would set the parameters for management and approve a business plan. This approach would ensure that new parks would have strong grassroots support. The new areas would be locally governed, enjoy the benefit of a partnership with park professionals and enjoy the  leverage of the NPS brand. Voilà a NPS experience at substantially reduced cost to the taxpayer!

As I read the elements of Fretwell’s franchise model, I was assailed by a sense of creeping familiarity – An approach that offers a way to get under the NPS umbrella, but is not managed by the NPS, one that is launched by strong local support and commitment, and that must follow NPS standards and requires a business plan, but recognizes that one size does not fit all. Wait a minute; don’t we already have something similar in the NPS portfolio? We do, there are 49 of them, and they are called National Heritage Areas.

The irony is that institutionalizing the National Heritage Area idea is stalled in a stand off between the administration (actually multiple administrations going back to 2001) and the very congressional committees who are calling for a more market based approach. Although NHAs incorporate most of the efficiencies touted in Fretwell’s article and have a thirty-year track record, the  NHA program legislation has been held up with claims of a federal overreach and as a federal land grab when nothing could be farther from the truth!

So I ask those like PERC who are proposing that the NPS rethink how they leverage the national park brand to follow their own dictums. Let’s not create something new and shiny. Instead why not polish up the National Heritage Areas model and make it work even better for the next one hundred years.

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Half-century Legacy of LWCF at Risk

By Eleanor Mahoney August 31, 2015

President Johnson signing the the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1964. Photo: National Park Service

President Johnson signing the the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1964. Photo: National Park Service

This year marked the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, an occasion first celebrated in 1970. It also marked the 45th anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA as well as the 45th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the government body most widely associated with monitoring and enforcing regulations governing air and water quality as well as pollution and its effects. It is not surprising then, that the 1970s are often known as the environmental decade and that the years of the Nixon presidency (1969-1974) are usually those most often associated with the implementation of an environmental agenda, especially at the federal level.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Nixon’s predecessor in the oval office, also had a robust conservation vision, driven, in large part, by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, as well as his influential Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. Many National Seashores and Lakeshores, like Indiana Dunes, Point Reyes and Fire Island, gained designation during the Johnson Administration as did National Parks such as Canyonlands and North Cascades. Beautification initiatives also gained widespread support, including the famous highway clean-up / planting efforts of the First Lady.

Additionally, the role of non-governmental organizations shifted greatly during this period. NGOs expanded their influence and reach, as advocates challenged the public sector on many of its policies, especially in the realms of water management (ex. dam building in the western U.S.) and regulation of industry and industrial contaminants. Passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 is perhaps the best known instance of the increasing influence of citizen-driven conservation and environmental initiatives.

As the deadline for re-authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grows ever closer, it is worth considering just how groundbreaking the original piece of legislation really was – since its now 51-year history perhaps leads us to take its historical significance for granted. At the time of the Fund’s establishment, however, members of the Johnson administration knew its importance. For example, in a 1966 memo on achievements in the areas of conservation and natural beauty sent from Secretary Udall to Joseph Califano, Special Assistant to the President, Udall commented on the LWCF Act:

“This legislation has set in motion a comprehensive and far-reaching outdoor recreation program by the States and the Federal Government, which will reap tremendous recreational benefits for all Americans. It constitutes a landmark in the outdoor recreation and conservation fields. It will provide much needed funds for the States, on a matching basis, and for the Federal Government, for outdoor recreation and endangered species of fish and wildlife.” (1)

Before the early 1960s, the federal government played a very limited role in funding land conservation outside of federally owned lands, which were predominately west of the Mississippi River. Providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, especially in areas close to urban centers, was left largely in the hands of state and local government, entities that often struggled to find adequate resources. LWCF, along with an Urban Open Space Program funded by the Housing and Home Finance Agency (later HUD), created an entirely new pool of funds for the protection of landscapes significant for their ecological and cultural values (which were, of course, often tied together).

These programs were not perfect. Urban areas, in particular, continued to receive proportionately less funds over time, though some efforts have been made to address this imbalance. Additionally, the LWCF’s chief funding source, royalties from off shore drilling, is ironic at best, especially given the ever more dramatic effects of climate change on the planet. The pursuit of other revenue sources must be prioritized moving forward.

Nonetheless, the achievements of the LWCF are impressive, over 5 million acres of federal land protected and over 40,000 projects supported on the state side of funding, just to name a few of the more notable statistics. With one month to go before funding expires, it is time for Congress to act to ensure that this “comprehensive and far-reaching outdoor recreation program” to quote Stewart Udall continues to play a key role in conservation for at least another half-century.

Footnotes

1. WHITE HOUSE CENTRAL FILES, SUBJECT FILE: Memo, Stewart Udall to Joseph Califano, 2/9/66, Ex NR, Box 5, WHCF, LBJ Library.

 

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The Future of Administrative Histories

By Guest Observer April 27, 2015

By Angela Sirna

The National Council on Public History held its annual meeting last week in Nashville, Tennessee, bringing together over 800 members dedicated to encouraging collaboration among historians and their public. I participated in one particular working group that focused on National Park Service administrative histories. The NPS uses these documents to understand the agency’s involvement in a particular park, office, region, or program, and help with future management decisions.

In the months leading to the conference, members of the working group contributed thoughts to a Google Doc about how the NPS might revisit its guidelines, last written in 2004, and think “beyond the administrative history.” In other words, how can we make these documents more usable? I was happy with the group’s diversity and impressed by the participants’ credentials. Everyone present had extensive experience with writing, reviewing, or using these documents. There were consultants, park historians, regional historians, and scholars. Okay, I guess I still count as a graduate student, but I’m trying to move beyond that label. We discussed three questions and I’ll share some of our thoughts that stick out in my memory (I didn’t take notes).

  • What makes an administrative history useful?

Administrative histories tell the park’s story; every manager should know hers/his park’s story. An administrative history should show where the “land mines” are buried, where the past and potential controversies lie. These histories should help with compliance, but also tie to larger historical narratives. I also argued that an administrative history, when done right, can be a road map for civic engagement, especially when it shows how the NPS marginalized or excluded certain groups.

  • What do we do with administrative histories when they are done?

A common and legitimate complaint is that once completed, many administrative histories are doomed to languish on a shelf or in a box. We discussed (as many have over the years) of having a searchable database for this literature group with special tags. We also considered several different “add ons” that might be included in contracts or funded later through ONPS CR funds marked for “Transfer of Knowledge.” These additions can include workshops and training for personnel about the document, a place for admin history authors at the table for concurrent or future park planning initiatives, videos for the web, or other interpretive content. We didn’t get into who owns the research, but I think it is important to talk up front about the possibility of publishing in academic journals or with university or trade presses. These all require a good deal of foresight. I also encouraged the group to think beyond the traditional monograph as the final product for these studies. Can we possibly do digital projects (such as this one on the Blue Ridge Parkway), videos, or something else instead?

  • What are the future directions with administrative histories?

Looking at the agenda, my memory of this part of the conversation is less clear. However, my major point from reading the discussions on the Google Doc is that park managers need to recognize that administrative histories are a process, not a one-and-done product. There are things parks can do while they wait for an administrative history project to be funded. I think this is where graduate students can be a big help. They can examine bits and pieces of a park’s history through research papers, theses, and dissertations. However, for this to be successful for both the agency and the student, the NPS needs to provide some measure of support and treat these studies as legitimate agency literature and scholarship. I’ve noticed an attitude within the agency that if they did not spend a bunch of money on a project, it somehow doesn’t “count.” That is a disservice to the student, the park resources, and the public the agency serves. A good partnership can mean that a contractor will have less ground to cover if they can build upon accumulating literature.

Moving forward from our meeting in Nashville, the NPS will hopefully incorporate our ideas into its guidelines for administrative histories, which it is currently reviewing and revising. Group facilitators will also summarize our discussions in a History at Work post. Finally, an upcoming edition of The Public Historian will focus on NPS biographies.

Are administrative histories important to your work? How do you use them? How might the NPS make them better?

Ed note: Interested in reviewing some NPS administrative histories? npshistory.com has a good list here.

Angela Sirna received her PhD in Public History from Middle Tennessee State University in April 2015 and is currently working on an administrative history of Stones River National Battlefield. Her dissertation traced the development of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park from the New Deal through the Great Society. Angela also served as the Public Historian in Residence at Catoctin Mountain Park in 2013-2014 and completed a Special Resource Study on human conservation programs at the park throughout the twentieth century.

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National Heritage Areas at Thirty: Help tell the Story

By Brenda Barrett November 29, 2014

Credit: Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor

Aqueduct on the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. Photo by Illinois & Michigan Canal NHC

In August of 1984, President Reagan signed the legislation to create a new kind of National Park Service designation – the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. The heritage  corridor or area idea was conceived as a way to cross the culture –nature divide and leap political boundaries with the goal of blending public-private resource conservation, interpretation, and community revitalization. Heritage areas tell stories that are too big, too gritty, too alive, and just plain too expensive to be confined to the boundaries of traditional national park unit. And heritage areas harness grassroots energy to power all this good work. Over and over the National Park Service (NPS) has touted the NHA approach to partnership and community engagement.  Reports such as the now ten year old Charting a Future for the National Heritage Areas, and the recent Call to Action call out the program as the future of the park service. Over and over evaluations  of the heritage area program have documented effective management, and the cost efficient resource conservation and recreational development.

This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the National Heritage Area (NHA) program, but don’t celebrate too soon. NHAs across the nation are facing a perilous time. The now 49 National Heritage Areas stretching from Atlantic coast to the state of Alaska are struggling to survive. They have been hammered by shrinking federal budgets, questions about the role of government, and even their right to exist.

The Living Landscape Observer (LLO) follows the large landscape movement and in our opinion NHAs are some of the most innovative regional initiatives out there. Yet with the future of the program at risk, it is time to try and tackle some of the difficult political and programmatic questions. For example,  with so many National Heritage Areas across the country and Congress proposing to designate more, why is the sustainability of this program at risk? With such intense interest in landscape scale work and collaborative approaches to conservation and community engagement, what can be learned from NHAs? Who are the partners that have similar mission and can help support the program? How can the heritage areas be repositioned to further the National Park Service’s stewardship role in the 21st century?

With all these glowing reports and the NPS Centennial of the National Park Service right around the corner in 2016, this is the right time to have a critical dialogue on the past, present, and future of the NHA idea. So as our contribution to the thirtieth anniversary, NHA@30, we plan to:

  • Post articles in the LLO newsletter every month starting this January through December 2014 on the foundations of the program and the issues facing heritage areas today
  • Produce a short history of the NHA program – available on the LLO web site in June 2014.
  • Provide a current conditions assessment on the program – available on the LLO web site July 2014.
  • Conduct surveys, hold meetings, and have discussions on the future of NHAs with diverse partners and interested parties.
  • Publish our insights and recommendations on NHAs in December 2014.
  • Seek to engage young scholars in the field of landscape scale resource conservation by asking for their essays and contributions.

Help us tell the Whole Story: We are seeking opinion pieces, comments, and stories on NHAs…so join us in the discussion about the program’s future. Contact us with your ideas!

bbarrett@livinglandscapeobserver.net or emahoney@livinglandcapeobserver.net

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Blackstone River Valley: Sounding a Retreat from Landscape Scale Work?

By Brenda Barrett September 29, 2014

Fair warning: Insider discussion coming up…

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas

An image of Slater Mill in the Blackstone River Valley NHC on the cover of the 2006 report “Charting A Future for National Heritage Areas.”

Not so long ago the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor was the pride of the National Park Service (NPS) – the poster child of the new approach to managing a living landscape. It was lauded in publication after publication and was a regular stop for visiting dignitaries looking for models of intergovernmental partnerships in action. The corridor was a prime example of the NPS extending its reach to the landscape scale using a Federal Commission that included government at every level and private citizens to care for a 550 square miles corridor spanning Massachusetts and Rhode Island and 24 communities. Non-profit and private sector partners also played a key role in corridor planning and management, whether as the stewards of key sites like museums or as co-promoters of tourism and preservation initiatives.

The story of the Blackstone Valley illustrated an arc of the nation’s industrial history stretching from sites of early industrial innovation to environmental exploitation, and then abandonment. Through its the expansive mission, the Blackstone River Valley Commission, was able to interpret the whole landscape – the connection between cities and rural areas, industrial innovation, and the regeneration of the region’s natural and cultural values.

But somewhere along the way, the NPS changed its direction in the Blackstone Valley. Perhaps it was the lingering effects of the great recession or the inborn desire to care more for resources that one owns in fee. An NPS special resource study that was originally planned to create the next level of innovation for the region’s future inexplicably rejected the continuation of the heritage commission. The study devolved into a preferred alternative that would create a traditional national park. The sweeping ideas of the original heritage corridor – partnership management of the valley – were reduced to the NPS preserving a small collection of industrial heritage sites. It certainly was not about the money as the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the new park as $26 million dollars (between FY 2014-2018).  The 2014 annual appropriation for the corridor program is only around $500,000. However, some argued that this was the best deal that could be crafted to keep a NPS presence in the valley. After all it was thought that a new park unit could partner with the heritage corridor and provide a stable base of operation.

Two years ago in reporting on the Blackstone situation, I noted the irony in this proposal…”Just as the NPS’s most recent strategic plan, calls for scaling up its work and promoting large landscape conservation to support healthy ecosystems and cultural resources, one of the best examples of collaborative lived-in landscape management may be headed for a down sizing.” (see full post here)

Recent congressional action on the proposed park bill for the Blackstone Valley is even more alarming than a mere down sizing. In September of 2014 the House Natural Resources Committee amended HR 706, “to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park” to strip out every reference of a partnership with the heritage corridor (along with other language that makes even establishing a traditional park problematic). This would end the innovative approach that has been in place for almost three decades.

So what is next? The Senate companion bill S. 371 still has the right stuff. But as is sometimes the case at the end of a two-year congressional session, the bills could be included in a last minute omnibus bill. If this bill rumbles down the halls of power, there will be little time to make the case for landscape scale thinking and try salvage what was once an exemplary partnership.

Credit: Brenda Barrett

Roger Williams National Memorial. Credit: Brenda Barrett

Another possibility is that nothing will happen. Then legislative process would have to start all over in 2015, the same year that the funding authorization for the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor ends. If that happens what will be the NPS’s role in the Blackstone Valley? Well the agency will still fly the flag over the Roger Williams National memorial a 5-acre park in downtown Providence – a long way from the landscape scale vision that once animated their work.

 

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